EFA Islands Forum demands affordable housing in Islands from Friesland

Representatives of various European island regions met together in Skylge island to debate housing solutions applied in different countries and regions

The EFA Islands Forum, made up of all the EFA parties that represent island territories, met last weekend at the Frisian island of Skylge to demand affordable housing in European islands. Representatives from different island territories in the EU joined together to discuss different solutions for the housing challenges that have been applied in different countries and regions. This was the third meeting of the Islands Forum, the EFA body which in the last 2 years has organized three debates on the major challenges for islands: tourism, transportation, and housing.

The event was opened with the words of EFA President Lorena López de Lacalle, together with Frisian Regional Minister Sijbe Knol, and Skylge Mayor Caroline Van del Pol. “In EFA, we cherish our languages, traditions, our specific knowledge and know-how, acquired with time and patience. That is what we want to share among ourselves and with others”, said EFA President.

They gave the floor to the first session “Living and quality of life on the Wadden Islands and in Friedland”, focused on learning from the local policies and practices. The session counted on the participation of diverse local councilors of the Frisian islands: Bert Koonstra (Nord-east Friesland), Chris van Hes (De Fryske Marren), Theo Faber (Ameland), Dr. Gea van Essen (Skylge/Teschelling). “We have many retired people on our island. The old population needs care services and these workers have to be able to live here. We need a young community and to protect it for the future”, assured Dr. Gea van Essen.

A workshop introduced by the Frisian Deputy for the Wadden Matthijs de Vries, and the University of Groningen Professor Sierdjan Koster followed this session. It counted with an open discussion with the participants based on various topics and statements that have to do with living, housing, and quality of life.

The role of the EU

The last session focused on the role of Europe. It counted on the expertise of EFA MEP François Alfonsi, the Head of the EU liaison office of the International Union of Tenants Barbara Steenbergen, and the Representative of the Government of the Åland Islands in Brussels Anton Nilsson. Ms. Barbara Steenbergen talked about some regulations and opportunities: the regulation of short-term rental, the Energy Performance Directive, and the idea of establishing mandatory access to affordable housing for a broad part of the population. She also mentioned the idea to create an intergroup for islands in the European Parliament.

On the other hand, Mr. Nilsson explained the citizenship system for housing is working in the Åland Islands, which was negotiated in 1995 when Finland accessed the EU. According to this primary law, people cannot do business or own land without the right to domicile in the Åland Islands. To get this right, one needs to live 5 years in the territory, speak Swedish, and have a Finnish residence permit. There is, therefore, a positive discrimination that is allowing the population to keep their housing rights.

The event finished with the conclusions of the FNP MP Sita Land-Dotiga, the EFA Vice-president Frank de Boer, and the FNP President Jan Arendz. With this meeting, the EFA Islands Forum closes a series of debates around the islands’ special needs. The events took place on the islands of Mallorca, Menorca, and Skylge. After this exercise, EFA will be the EU political party that will contest the European elections in 2024 with the stronger programme concerning islands needs and a clear demand: the recognition of a special status for EU islands!